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Re-creating an NFL Game Environment in London

(Ben Liebenberg via AP)

(Ben Liebenberg via AP)

London’s Wembley Stadium has hosted more than a dozen NFL games since the league’s International Series began in 2007. Each game challenges the league’s Game Operations unit with re-creating an NFL game environment in a stadium best known for soccer and rugby.

The Game Ops crew coordinates the staffing and technology to ensure that every one of the league’s 256 regular-season games is played under ideal conditions. For a typical NFL game, the home team will prepare its stadium; for games played in the United Kingdom, the league takes on that responsibility. 

“Football Ops and International Series staff work hard to make sure the differences are nominal,” said Jay Reid, the NFL’s manager of instant replay technology.

For the London games between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars (Oct. 25) and the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs (Nov. 1), league officials prepare the stadium and the field — starting with filling the hundreds of behind-the-scenes positions that make each game possible. 

Some game day professionals with specialized skills, such as instant replay technicians, will travel to London; for other roles, the NFL will hire qualified personnel locally. In both games, the British American Football Referees’ Association will supply the chain gang.

Team physicians and trainers work closely with British physicians — including orthopedic surgeons and neurotrauma specialists — and emergency medical staff to fill the in-stadium medical roles required for every NFL game. 

Field preparation begins in the week before the game. Grounds crews remove any markings on the field and install the goal posts. They paint the field and the end zones with the required lines and team logos, and install play clocks in the stadium as outlined in the NFL Game Operations Manual. 

Since the Jaguars are the home team for the Oct. 25 game, the game and play clock operators, injury review technicians and ATC spotter will be those who work the games in Jacksonville. These positions will be filled Nov. 1 by personnel from Kansas City. 

As with all other games, NFL field certification specialists test the playing surface for hardness and make sure that the field is safe, meets the league’s competitive standards and stands up to NFL action. 

“We work with the grounds crew at Wembley on pitch plans to make sure the field holds up to 300-pound men battling in the trenches,” said Blake Jones, the NFL’s director of football operations.

NFL staff installs the instant replay and injury review video equipment. In-game communications devices are prepared and secured. The NFL coaches’ communication systems are not licensed for wireless use in the U.K.; as a result, coaches will wear wired belt packs.

A wireless network will be set up on the sidelines so that teams can use their Surface Pro 3 tablets to review game action and make coaching decisions during the game. A hard-wired option will also be available in case there are any problems with the Wi-Fi system. As with NFL games in the U.S., teams will have the option to print out photos.

“The International Series provides our IT staff with a unique opportunity to ensure that our technologies perform well on a global stage,” said Clint Wagner, the NFL’s director of IT business relationships. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide fans & teams with all of the technology that they would normally have for any other game.”

For the first time in the International Series, the NFL will play at Wembley Stadium on two consecutive Sundays with no events scheduled in between, so many of the league’s modifications to the stadium for the Oct. 25 game will remain in place for the final 2015 International Series game. (The first game of the 2015 International Series was held Oct. 4, when the New York Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins.)

More international games are on the horizon. In July 2015, the league announced a deal with the English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur to host NFL games in Tottenham’s new stadium beginning in 2018. Three months later, league owners approved a resolution allowing for more NFL regular-season international games through 2025, setting the stage for games outside the United Kingdom.